With urban farms, Motor City could be nearly self-sustaining

Transforming Detroit's vacant lots into farms and community gardens could provide city residents with a majority of their fruits and vegetables, according to a new study.

As efficient as a dense metropolis is per square mile, a city still must reap the benefits of the area around it, especially with regard to food. After all, you can't put a farm in the middle of a city.

Or can you?

A new study on Detroit indicates that transforming vacant urban lots into farms and community gardens could provide residents with a majority of their fruits and vegetables.

Michigan State University researchers say that a combination of urban farms, community gardens, storage facilities and hoop houses could supply residents with more than 75 percent of their vegetables and more than 40 percent of their fruits.

"Even with a limited growing season, significant quantities of fresh fruits and vegetables eaten by Detroiters could be grown locally," researcher Kathryn Colasanti said in a statement. "And investments in produce storage facilities and hoop houses would increase this capacity substantially."

Detroit is a great test case for such a study because city officials continue to struggle to find how to best use the city's many vacant properties as its population has shrunk over decades. The researchers identified 44,085 vacant parcels of land using aerial imagery and the city's database of vacant property, excluding parks, golf courses, cemeteries and other such uses.

But it's not just finding open land. The researchers say urban farming involves an education component, getting residents used to the idea that a city can be a center of growth for agriculture, not just people and concrete.

Residents see value in urban farms for a number of reasons, including sustainability, strengthening neighborhood bonds, additional income or just access to fresher produce, according to the study.

Can urban agriculture become one patch in the diverse fabric of a major city like Detroit?

The study appears in the current issue of The Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development.

Photo: Nicolas Haeringer/Flickr

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com